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Explore the World of Honeybees

By Mackie Rhodes

Why do honeybees dance? How do bees carry pollen? Answer these questions and more as you partake in the following hands-on activities.



Society in a Colony

Buzz into your study of honeybees by helping children understand the roles within a bee colony. The queen bee lays up to 2,000 eggs per day to populate the hive. Thousands of workers attend the queen, nurse young bees, guard the colony, and supply food. Drones mature and mate with other queens. Draw a large hive on a sheet of brown bulletin board paper. Divide the hive into three sections and label them, from top to bottom, "Queen," "Drones," and "Workers." Then have children research and fill in the roles for each type of bee.

Bee Fact: Worker bees are female. They build the beehive and perform all the jobs necessary for the survival of the hive.

Siblings by Scent

Explain to children that honeybees of the same colony recognize their siblings by scent. When an unrelated bee tries to enter the hive, guard bees detect its foreign scent and sting it to death. To help students understand how bees recognize one another, divide them into groups for this activity. First, gather a class supply of cotton swabs and three clear food flavorings, such as peppermint, coconut, and lemon. Divide the cotton swabs into three groups, dip each group into a different flavoring, and randomly arrange the swabs on waxed paper. Have children pick a cotton swab and form colonies (groups) by finding other "bees" with matching scented swabs. After the children have identified their "bee siblings," invite them to share their experiences.

Bee Fact: A bee smells, tastes, and feels with its two antennae. It also senses things with the hairs on its body and legs.

Busy as a Beehive 

With each individual bee dedicated to a specific job, life in a beehive runs very smoothly. Distribute classroom responsibilities with this easy-to-assemble job hive to encourage every child to take part. First, fill a shoebox with toilet-paper tubes, standing the tubes on end. Stand the filled box on its short end to create a tall hive, paint with yellow tempera paint, and let dry. Then insert into each cell a paper strip labeled with a classroom job. Have children help you create jobs based on the different roles of the bees and the way a hive operates. To use, children remove the paper from a cell and perform that specific job. At the end of the day, discuss how each child's efforts helped make the classroom a more organized and efficient "hive."

Bee Fact: A beehive is built with wax produced in special glands in the workers' abdomens.


Dancing Directions

When a bee discovers a field of nectar-producing flowers, it communicates its find by dancing on the hive. A circle dance means that the flowers are nearby. A waggle dance, in which the bee wags its abdomen, indicates the flowers are far away. To further direct the colony, the dancing bee waggles in a straight line, to the left, or to the right. Invite children to communicate in a bee's language. First, write the names of different classroom objects on note cards, making sure the objects are visible to students. To play, group children into "colonies." Then secretly show one "bee" in each group the note card. Instruct that bee to perform circle and waggle dances to give its colony clues to the location of the mystery object. When a colony guesses the object, invite the dancing bee to fly to the object to confirm its location.

Bee Fact: A bee has five eyes: two large compound eyes on each side of its head and three smaller eyes on top of its head.

How Much Honey?

On a single flight, a honeybee can visit more than 1,000 flowers, drinking nectar with its proboscis, a tongue that resembles a drinking straw. When its "honey stomach" — which holds only one-eyedropper's worth of nectar — is full, the bee deposits the nectar into hive cells. Group children into "colonies" for this activity. For each colony, place an eyedropper and cup of water at one end of the room and a plastic medicine cup (marked with teaspoon and tablespoon increments) across the room.

To play, children take turns transferring water across the room to the medicine cups — one drop at a time! As the "bees" deposit their "honey" into the "hives," a recorder keeps count of the drops needed to produce the amounts of water, from 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons. When finished, explain that the drop count for each measurement equals the number of bee flights taken to produce that amount of honey. Tell children that each bee produces about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.

A Hive of Sixes

On strips of paper, write equations representing the factors of six in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, including the answer for each on the back. Using the hive described in "Busy as a Beehive," insert each equation into a cell and place in your math center. To use, children choose a slip to solve from each cell. They can check their work by comparing their answers to the back of each strip. Challenge students to solve the whole hive!

One Bee, One Sting

A bee uses its stinger to defend itself. Only worker bees sting people and animals (drones don't have stingers, and a queen stings only other queens to take over a colony). A stinger has barbs that anchor it into the victim's flesh. When the bee flies away, the stinger tears away from its body, creating an injury that causes the bee to die. To show how barbs work, give children a Styrofoam block, a screw, and a nail. Have them push the screw and nail into the block. Then ask them to remove each one. Which is easier to remove? Explain that the screw spirals represent stinger barbs. The spirals grip the foam and hold it in place, just as a bee's stinger barbs grip the victim's flesh.

This article was originally published in the March 2003 issue of Instructor.

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